Learning While Black

By: Amber Lee

Learning While Black

The school-to-prison pipeline is an example of racism in America. In 1954, the US Supreme court ruled that “segregation of America’s public schools was unconstitutional.” Although schools are now integrated, there are still many disparities in outcomes for whites and blacks in 2017. The school-to-prison pipeline is a theory that students of color, poor students, and disabled students in America are being pushed out of educational institutions and into juvenile/adult criminal justice systems. There is a significant difference between white and black youth in respect to how they are treated and behave in school, what happens in the courtroom, drop out rates, and parental incarceration: all things that ultimately lead up to time spent in prison.

One difference between whites and blacks in the classroom is behavior. Four students at Berkeley High School (Berkeley, California) randomly asked students and faculty if they noticed significant differences in behavior between the two groups. In their research they found that most people agreed that there was discrepancy, but for separate reasons. One of the most common explanations for these contrasts are the differences in culture. Paying attention to way of life is important in public schools because in class, many different people from all walks of life may be learning together. These differences may be considered a problem when two students from separate cultures are in an altercation; however they have different communication skills, and may not be able to understand the perspective of the other. Another example is if a student comes from a family where being loud and cutting people off is okay, but in the teacher’s culture that’s a sign of disrespect.

These behavioral issues may be a cause to why there are significant disparities in suspension and expulsion rates in California. According to this data collection, twenty one percent of African American male students, and eleven percent of African American female students are suspended in school. In comparison, only eight percent of white males, and three percent of white females are suspended in school. This shows a difference in not only ethnicity, but also gender. Black males are two times more likely to be suspended in school than white men, and African American females are almost four times as likely to be suspended in school than their white counterpart.

Another dumbfounding fact about suspension rates is that these patterns are especially true at a preschool level. The same source states that although blacks represent eighteen percent of students enrolled in preschool, they make up forty two percent of in school suspensions, and forty eight percent of out of school suspensions. Whereas whites make up forty three percent of preschool students, twenty eight percent of in school suspensions, and twenty six percent of out of school suspensions. This depicts that not only are schools beginning to show school to prison patterns before students reach age five, but that there is also a difference in who gets suspended, determined by ethnicity. In addition to blacks being more likely to get suspended at school, it is important to know that they receive more out of school suspensions than an in school. In contrast, whites are more likely to receive an on campus suspension than one out of school.

African American students are more likely to be away from an academic setting, which can result in low grades. Although a little outdated, in 2009 The Nation’s Report Card expressed that the national average high school GPA for blacks was 2.69. In contrast, the average GPA for whites was 3.09. Students that are not in class will not succeed because they have not received the material necessary to thrive at the next level.

If a student has low grades, they are more likely to drop out of school. In 2015 the California dropout rate for African Americans was nineteen percent. However the dropout rates for whites was a little above seven percent. This is significant in understanding the school-to-prison pipeline because if students fail at school and dropout, they are not going to be able to get a high paying job that will allow them room for success. In 2014, the average income for African Americans was $35,398; the average income for whites was $56,866. This proves that black students are failing at a higher rate, dropping out at higher rates, and have less money. Thus, they’re provided with less opportunity for jobs, and no job is equivalent to no money; all in which illustrates a vicious cycle. In the African American community, selling drugs for money is popular. If the student has no money and no education, they might sell drugs to survive which will lead to prison.

Another group of African Americans that are spending time out of class are children with disabilities. Of the ten percent of African Americans diagnosed with a learning disability, point four percent of those students are removed from school and into another modified learning institution. In addition, only forty five percent of black students with learning disabilities spend more than eighty percent of their day in a normal class. In comparison, whites make up twenty eight percent of the population of students with learning disabilities and only point two percent of those students are removed from school and into another modified learning institution. Furthermore, fifty six percent of those students spend more than eighty percent of their day in a normal class. Although there are more white students with learning disabilities, there is a greater percent of African American students who are removed from normal learning institutions. In addition, there is more than a ten percent difference in those spending time in normal classrooms.

On-campus and school related arrest are surprisingly common in school. While black students represent sixteen percent of student enrollment, they represent thirty one percent of students subjected to a school related arrest. In comparison, white students represent fifty one percent of enrollment, and thirty nine of those arrested. When students are arrested, they go to court. While in juvenile court, fifteen percent of African Americans are counseled and released, and twenty percent of whites are counseled and released. This shows that African American students are being arrested at higher rates, but being released at lower rates than whites.

There is also a tremendous difference between children convicted in adult court relating to color. According to Kamala D. Harris, approximately ninety percent of African American youth are convicted of crime in adult court; whereas seventy six percent of whites are convicted in adult court.

Another prominent contributing factor to juveniles in prison is the lack of resources in school and out of school. Between 1991 and 2007, the number of minor children in the United States with a parent in a state or federal prison increased from about 1 million to over 1.7 million children. A significant association was found between race and parental incarceration. Black and Hispanic individuals had the highest prevalence of incarcerated parents, twenty one percent and fifteen percent, compared with twelve percent for white individuals.

Nationally, 50,821 juvenile offenders were held in residential placement facilities in 2014, while fifty eight percent of the youth admitted to state prisons are of African descent. For every 100,000 black male juveniles in the population, 804 were in residential placement and for white males it was 162.

In conclusion, there is a significant difference between white and black youth in respect to how they are treated and behave in school, what happens in the courtroom, drop out rates, and parental incarceration: all things that ultimately lead up to time spent in prison. The school-to-prison pipeline is real, and statistics prove it to be true. In the United States mass incarceration is a pressing issue that we need to improve. However at the rate and reasons why we send juveniles to jail, especially African Americans, we will never solve our problem. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, one in three black men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime. And although this may be caused by cultural differences, and gender and socio-economical status, teachers, students, families, and government officials must all work together to see change. Racism is learned, and therefore can be unlearned. If this country continues to fail African American males in educational institutions and the prison system, then we will forever be stuck in our current system of destruction.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. emet levy says:

    The research in this project is very well done, ever claim has a fact/ source to back it up


  2. jackgnelson says:

    While I liked all the facts included in this essay my favorite thing was definitely the great diction and clear message. How do you think we can bridge some of the cultural differences that you mentioned as being one of the earliest causes of discrepancies?


  3. ceceliabell17 says:

    I didn’t realize that the school t prison pipeline included students with disabilities.


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